Owing to its Dutch colonial history, the island of Curaçao has always stood out for its multicultural, unusually cosmopolitan atmosphere. At any time, you’re likely to hear English, Dutch, Spanish, and the local Papiamentu, with over 50 nationalities represented on an island of just 160,000.
There is any number of ways to explore those cultural influences. But one is always the most fun: the food.
For the adventurous palate, travelling to Curaçao is like touring a dozen nations at once. Unlike more densely populated tourist destinations, Curaçao’s food culture comes straight from its history. The liqueur known as Blue Curaçao is derived from a bitter, nearly inedible orange native to the island – but the orange itself was introduced to the island by Spanish explorers centuries before. Similar stories abound, and it’s nearly impossible to find a food menu in Willemstad that hasn’t blended three or more cultural cuisines into something unique.
You can credit foreign missionaries for the special ambience at Blessing, a Pietermaai district restaurant built into an old monastery dating back to 1932. Open since 2016, Blessing maintains the history of the structure with traditional chapel-style architecture, and incorporates Asian, Indonesian, Dutch, native cuisine and more into its simple yet diverse menu.
At Hofi Cas Cora, the food culture is organic in more ways than one. This family-owned farm-to-table restaurant became the first restaurant in Curaçao to offer a menu filled with natural ingredients grown on-property. The restaurant sits on an expansive plot of farmland; when the owners aren’t tending to the farm, they’re arranging garden yoga classes or planning five-course tasting events.
But of course, to eat like one of the locals, you have to hit the streets – and especially late at night, that’s where Willemstad’s food truck scene comes out. Truk’I pan (“bread trucks”) are stocked full of delicious pastechi, dough wrapped around all kinds of meat, vegetable and cheese fillings. If the trucks aren’t rolling, pastechi can always be had from corner bars or street vendors, but the trucks will also offer fresh local juices and grilled or stewed meats.
Not everyone has the stomach to truly eat like a Curaçaoan – sult (pickled pigs ears and feet) is just one of many local favorites that may not appeal to everyone. But given the sheer number of nations that have informed the island’s history and culture, it’s easy to see how Curaçao can cook up something for everyone, while staying wholly unique at the same time.